Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pop Culture and Philosophy [sic], Again

A friend wrote me yesterday:

[Spiros], I think your silly blog might be having some (unintended?) effect. My department met on Friday for a preliminary discussion of the junior search we'll be conducting this Fall. [One of my colleagues] proposed that "any applicant who has a paper in a Pop Culture and Philosophy book should be immediately placed in the 'no thanks' pile." To my surprise, no one objected to the sentiment.

I doubt that I'm entitled to take credit for this. All one has to do is take a look at any of the volumes to find that they're a haven for the incompetent.


Anonymous said...

why does your friend call this blog silly? you have another blog that's not silly, perhaps?

ps bitching about Dworkin is a giveaway

Anonymous said...

Yeah, God forbid someone would try to make the parochial interests of contemporary academic philosophy relevant or even interesting to people without Ph.d's, or the masochistic patience to read the turgid prose of the discipline!

I could understand not counting it as much more than say a letter to the editor, or a lecture to the local chapter of Amnesty International. But, the silliness of the proposal is only exceeded by the thoughtlessness of a room full of putatitvely thoughtful people who let such silly snobbery pass presumably for rigor and standards. And, we wonder why philosophy departments get closed and no one on campus think that philosophers serve any purpose!

Now, I do not think much of most of the contents of these volumes, nor the desperation of the proposals (philosophy and viagra, sigh), and the essays tend to be at best lightweight and sometimes just bad.

What would you conclude from the fact that someone chose to write a piece illustrating or applying philosophical insight into popular culture? Is the problem that they wanted to do so? That they chose to do so rather than publish for the 15 readers in their specialization? Or, is it that you infer that they couldn't publish elsewhere? What if they also published work in a respectable journal, would you still hold their interest in, say, philosophy and macrame, against them?

I think it is more likely that we can conclude from this vignette that if there's one thing a philosopher loves it's her/his own familiar prejudices, than that we can infer a candidate's philosophical talent from having a paper in one of these books. But, then I'm probably not at such a high powered institution for a reason :)

[\end humorless snark]

Spiros said...

Anon 1:46,

I appreciate the snark, but I think you're presuming too much. Should we assume that the person making the suggestion is opposed to all attempts to make philosophy relevant or accessible, rather than to the attempts which (dis)grace the pages of the PC&P volumes? Maybe the person who made the suggestion has a different policy for publication in, say, /Think/ or /Philosophy Now/, or other forums?

That is, perhaps the person making the proposal takes herself to have good inductive evidence that what gets published in these volumes is didactic, incompetent crap which actually does more to harm the public profile of our discipline than a year's worth of JP papers on Newcomb's Paradox (Ah... remember *those* days!)?

So the complaint might not be at all that one has elected to "write a piece illustrating or applying philosophical insight into popular culture"; it might be that they have chosen a venue which takes money for furthering the popular perception that philosophy is simply bullshit?

Anonymous said...

Would the committee also not object to placing all applicants with a DUI on their record on the 'no thanks' pile?

If the argument is that Phil/Pop Culture books harm the public perception of philosophers, so too would the notion that 'academia sponsored philosophers are drunk drivers' harm the discipline.

Naturally, both of these are bad arguments. I worked on such a book for one reason: fast, easy cash. There are a multitude of reasons one may work on such books. Last I checked, many grad students are underfunded and occasionally need money. Why would you hold an applicant accountable for something they did for extra-philosophical reasons.

Naturally, if they included it in the CV as a 'representative publication', then in likelihood, they'd be dinged anyway. In this case, I could understand the argument of 'anyone that has to mention a Phil/Pop Culture entry in their CV likely does not have much of a CV, and to review it would be a waste of time.

But that you google their name and see one, say, might harm people who do things they are not proud of in grad school/as adjuncts in order to pay their bills.

Also, just because most are drivel does not mean they all are. What if an applicant agreed with the assessment, but instead of idly griping, they tried to make them better through their own effort? I mean, certainly there are some that don't suck, even if most do.

Anonymous said...

Please never hire people who work on books like these:

Hip Hop and Philosophy
(a Harvard guy edited this one-what a joke)

Talk to Her
(a u of c prof. has an essay here)

Philosophers Explore the Matrix
(not that film again)

Platowe said...

I think the cited dept reflects nothing but blind prejudice, and might shout "you lie!" if I were to suggest in their dept meetings that popular culture books could have real benefit. As I have said before on this topic, I am a full prof who has several tier-1 pubs as well as a couple of pop culture chapters to my name (for which I have not received anything but a couple of copies of the book). Got nothing to prove, and have turned down offers from on-the-Leiterific-map-campuses for remaining at my non-Leiterific SLAC which sits on a beautiful lake, with a beach 200 yards from my office.

Spiros: *could* there be a kind of pop-culture book that you would lend your name to? *Could* philosophy and/or the great unwashed benefit in any positive way from such a book? Your blanket remarks seem to merely dismiss such possibilities with a snap of your fingers. I can't believe this issue is so black-and-white as you make it--and please remember the case of Rep. Wilson with regard to another divisive issue that involved push-back on a very emotional, but not necessarily rational level.

Anonymous said...

I teach adjunct at a small private school where the students are required to take intro to philosophy. Most know nothing about philosophy and hate the fact that they must take the class, and so I've made "why you should care about philosophy" an underlying theme of the class. Anything that can get students' attention and making philosophy relevant to what they know is helpful when dealing with people who resent having to be in your class - and the students know, and respond well to, pop culture.

I think it's important to remember that these books are intro texts intended for a lay audience without a philosophy background. We shouldn't hold them to the same standards we hold professional texts. They are in different categories. As sources of philosophical insight, they fail, just as any other secondary intro text does - but that doesn't mean it's a bad intro text.

Krinos said...

I wonder if there's a point here that is about organizing CV's that Spiros's colleague is making: namely, a mistake of grouping popular publications with one's professional publications. I, myself, try to make a principled distinction, both on my own CV and in assessing the CV's of applicants in searches, between publications that are (supposed to be) pushing the envelope with philosophical research and those helping everyone else keep up. The former are of one class of publication and the latter of another. They are both of merit, and each worthy of consideration as contributions to the discipline (as many of the above comments show), but we should be aware of and recognize the difference ... and job applicants that do not are ones of whom we have inductive evidence they do not have similar professional judgment. To ding them on this basis, I think, is hasty, but there needs to be some non-arbitrary measure better than the applicant's pedigree....
Consequently, it's best to distinguish between peer-reviewed journal articles, invited articles/chapters, and finally popular publications on one's CV.

Spiros said...

Anon 5:05:

I think the analogy with DUI is misplaced. What makes the (overwhelming majority of the) essays in the PC&P series harmful is that they present themselves as philosophy, but are in fact incompetent bullshitting. So, the non-philosopher to whom the books are aimed is given a defective and misleading model of what philosophy is. The drunk driver is different. She does not present her incompetent driving as philosophy.

Spiros said...


I have no objection in principle to pop-cultural philosophizing. In fact, I follow some of the philosophy of film literature. In my view, a fully competent, non-harmful, and insightful PC&P volume is a conceptual possibility. I don't see why people are so quick to take my judgment about the PC&P books to indicate some deep elitism about keeping philosophy pure (or whatever).

The sad reality is this: the overwhelming majority of the essays in the PC&P volumes are incompetent, both philosophically and as pieces of writing. The grammatical, typographical, and stylistic errors are egregious and common enough to make the books unfit for classroom use. And the incompetence of the philosophy merely confirms the worst of what people tend to think philosophy is.

Now, of course, there are exceptions. One can find the occasional good (or better) essay. But why isn't that the norm rather than the exception? Here's a hypothesis: the PC&P series is a big enough money-maker that no one cares about quality-control. The presses that publish them apparently do not put any of their editorial resources (proofreaders, copyeditors, etc.) into the books, and the editors of the individual volumes seem to have no qualms about publishing their own half-baked work and that of their friends and students, apparently without regard for quality.

Again, the situation is not as bad as it might be, simply because these books, despite their impressive sales numbers, are hardly read. They're wrapped up and packed away in memorabilia collections, along with unopened action figures and other merch.

Anyway, perhaps there should be efforts to write philosophy about pop culture. We can argue about that. But I'd guess that we can agree straightaway that any such efforts should be at least philosophically competent. Right?

I hope you take full advantage of the lake and beach.

Anonymous said...

Krinos (or others): When you recommend distinguishing between "peer-reviewed journal articles, invited articles/chapters, and finally popular publications on one's CV" how do you distinguish between peer-reviewed journal articles and invited journal articles? From what I've seen, it seems that many invited journal articles are peer-reviewed. Do you put peer-reviewed invited articles in the peer-reviewed articles (implying that they weren't invited), in the invited articles section (implying that they weren't peer-reviewed), their own category?

JS Snail said...

Re: where to put invited vs. peer-reviewed papers...
I just put them both into an "invited/peer reviewed papers" section. This is separated from the papers which are neither, in which pile letters to the editor, non-peer-reviewed articles, and the like go. Any more division than that (at least until the section itself spans multiple pages) seems unnecessary. If an invited article were clearly not peer-reviewed I'd probably put it in the latter category, but I haven't had that happen so far.

CTS said...

Krinos: I'm with you on this.

We had a candidate who just lumped everything - 'philosophical novels,' near-vanity publication stuff, and peer reviewed stuff - altogether under 'publications.' It made us wonder if he had any clue.

I also have a colleague who contributes to many of the P&PC volumes. That he, too, treats these as on a par with his more scholarly work just amazes me.

Krinos said...

Anon 10:04

You're right that there's a penumbra between peer reviewed journal articles and invited book chapters, and the invited but also peer reviewed article, perhaps for a special issue, occupies this sort of position. My own thought is that blinded review is part of what makes journal articles the successes they are, and so I consequently ask that if my papers for special issues are to be reviewed, they also be blinded. But this said, if the paper's invited, it's getting different treatment from the editors, regardless of whether it's blinded for the reviewers. JS Snail's suggestion above seems reasonable enough to me, but I've just lumped all my invited but (even blind) reviewed papers with the other invited stuff. CV's should be readable, too, and more than 3 categories for publication is more than I care to have.

Oh, and I've written something for a popular culture and philosophy book, too. But here's the key: it doesn't go right next to the other essay in (say) Phil-Studies.

Dr. Killjoy said...

I'm not sure why many folks seem to think that the CV must, absolutely must, contain as much information as possible (as if info quantity is a rough stand in for quality). Do we really need to know all 20 conferences in which you either presented or commented (especially when half of them are grad conferences)? Must we be made aware of every publication (especially when most are book reviews, grad journal publications, pop philosophy pablum, or worst of all papers not published but only under review)? Anyone capable of editing themselves (e.g., Selected Presentations, Selected Publications, etc.)?

In fact, a CV with no publications looks at least slightly better (less worse) than one otherwise identical that attempts to pass off a bunch of bullshit as proper publications. Why? Unlike the former, the latter sort suggests that the candidate is radically ignorant or misinformed about professional standards or is a dishonest little shit trying to hide ineptitude with fluff.

That being said, I'm certain that any CV listing a pop philosophy publication also lists a host of other useless shit, which means either that the candidate actually thinks we ought to take such publications as something more than mere novelty or the candidate trusts that we'll be too stupid to see through the sad attempt at philosophical puffery. Either way, I'll be kicking that shit Spiros-style straight into the muthafuckin' bin.

Krinos said...

Killjoy's right that there's another implication of submitted CV's that do not distinguish between popular publishing and professional publishing: it either means that the candidate doesn't make the distinction (and hence, is likely professionally incompetent) or that the candidate thinks that the committee members don't make the distinction (and hence, makes the candidate likely someone who will regularly treat his/her colleagues like they are stupid). Either way...

This said, I think that the concerns voiced here by Spiros and Killjoy about the P&PC series can be rectified by people who are committed to doing popular philosophy well to contribute to those volumes. Just because the volumes are all too often filled with junk, that doesn't yet mean that they have to continue to be.

Spiros said...


1. Presentations at Grad Student conferences.

2. Stints as session chair at any conference.

3. Stints as commentator at any conference other than APA main program.

5. Presentations on the group program of the APA (with a precious few exceptions...).

6. Publications in PC&P volumes.

7. Publications in edited volumes not edited by super-stars in the field and not published by major academic presses.

8. Publications in conference proceedings. (Subject to the same qualifications as #7.)

9. Book reviews published online (except for at NDPR).

10. Books published with SUNY Press.

Anonymous said...

Spiros, I can't possibly think that your great contempt for these volumes really comes from giving them a careful reading. Am I really to believe that on your off hours you hang out at Barnes and Noble with a latte, perusing "Family Guy and Philosophy" or whatever the latest volume might be? I suspect not, and that you are generalizing from a very small sample. I think that's naughty, and the departments that rule out PCP writers are naughty too. A chapter in one of those books on a CV may not be a plus, but how could it possibly be a minus? It merely shows the candidate enjoys writing, has a sense of fun, maybe wants to be rich and famous. Who knows. Ruling people out because they write in these volumes is no different from ruling them out because they have blogs. In fact, the two activities are rather similar. Light, fun, public-oriented. Perhaps you can relate...since you have a blog.

Anonymous said...


Didn't you forget one?

11. Articles published in that classic "crap, I need to pad my CV quick!" resource: Southwest Philosophy Review.

Krinos said...

Anon 9:33,
SWPR is a conference proceedings. If listed as such, is that a case of CV padding?

I don't get why papers in volumes edited by lesser stars (and papers in conference proceedings, for that matter) should be left off one's CV entirely. I'd thought that the best case against P&PC publication and listing was not that it is in principle in error, but that listing it with other academic publications was professional misjudgment. So if given the proper category (e.g., conference proceedings or invited chapters) on the CV, what's the problem?

Spiros said...


My "Top Ten" was just cranky venting.

Krinos said...

Cranky venting now recognized as such. And anyhow, I like *reading* SWPR's papers... 3,000 word publications are just the right size for me to take in over lunch and learn something. No hatin' on SWPR!

Anonymous said...


My suggestion of SWPR was (like Spiros' list) partly in jest, however following his reasoning (see point 8) such pieces shouldn't make the cut even if listed as conference proceedings. Really, though, how often do people list them as such?

Even worse, though, is the listing of a Metapsychology Online book review as a publication.... Yikes.

Krinos said...

Anon 9:04 - "Really, though, how often do people list them as such?"

A good point, though I think it's a forgivable mistake.

A background question with CV's, especially for this discussion, is what their purpose is. It's an academic resume, for sure, but what does that mean? I'd like to think that at their best, they are a record of one's contributions to the discipline. On the record contributions, regardless of their venue, should be reflected. Surely this can yield the problem of over-reporting, but so long as people keep their contributions in perspective (or proportion), I guess I still don't see the misjudgment in having them on the CV. Now, if we had a rule: only 20 lines on the CV, or only what you can fit on a page, or only things that have been cited by people other than the author in other publications ... probably reporting, on a current example, a Metapsychology online review, is an error. But so long as CV's aren't limited to those proportions, what's wrong with a tally of one's (even modest... even minimal) contributions?

Jon Cogburn said...

By this policy your friend's department would not hire Noel Carroll, who edited and contributed to the Blackwell volume on the Twilight Zone. Your friend's department would also not hire Peter Ludlow, who has done one book on Second Life and another on video games more generally.

As far as C.V.s- Krinos is correct. The important thing is to keep separate different categories of publication, especially peer reviewed journals from everything else. If they are kept distinct, and there are enough lines in the peer reviewed journal article section, then the other stuff generally still helps.

Most of us that do this kind of stuff of course aren't Peter Ludlow or Noel Carrol, but most people who don't do this kind of stuff aren't at their level either.

Sorry for being uncharacteristically non-snarky. I endorse the snark of other commentators in this thread.

Jaded Dissertator said...

I'm going to recall here some sentiments from my colleague, Second Suitor, from 'The Philosophy of Viagara' thread:

I think ya'll are look at these things the wrong way. Of course you shouldn't write these in lieu of publishing something for a journal. It's not that kind of publication and not that kind of audience. These things just seem like a way to have a little fun with philosophy rather than fun with other things (say, call of duty 3). If it eats too much into your serious work time, or you think it's going to blow away search/tenure committees you've got a problem. Otherwise have fun with it.

If someone in the NBA wants to play pickup with some guys back home, he should be able to have fun using the tools of his profession (so long as it's not hurting his game when he goes back to work).

So, yeah, don't put the shit on your CV as if it were an actual respected publication (in fact, don't put it there at all) and don't write them instead of doing other work you should be doing and, per Spiros' advice, if you do write them, don't just further the perception that philosophy is bullshit.

Or don't write them at all because Spiros' friend's department won't hire you if you do.

Anonymous said...

A Harvard professor who works in two departments lists this as a publication:

Hip Hop and Philosophy: Rhyme 2 Reason, with Derrick Darby (Open Court Publishing, 2005)

He doesn't make any distinctions with types of publication. What say you? I can't wait to hear this one.

Spiros said...

Anon 10:58,

Hi. Sorry to keep you waiting. I thought the thread was about newcomers to the profession, how they should spend their research time, and what should go on their cvs. That you produce an example of a Harvard full professor who edited one of these volumes long after entering the profession is irrelevant to the issue.

But more importantly, you should have actually read the CV of the person you refer to. He is the author of an essay in the PC&P volume he co-edited, but it is not listed on his CV. And, indeed, his CV distinguishes between "refereed publications" and "other publications."

So here's what I say: Your case, insofar as it's relevant at all, supports the view you're aiming to criticize. Nicely done! Again, sorry to keep you waiting.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. I thought the arguments here were against such publications altogether. So given one's status in the discipline, they are acceptable.

Spiros said...

Anon 1:59,

A fallacious inference, to be sure. That the current thread concerns newcomers to the profession and the wisdom of contributing to PC&P volumes is enough to render your proposed counter-example irrelevant, but surely you're not entitled to draw from this the conclusion that "given one's status in the discipline, [PC&P contributions] are acceptable." In the case you mention, I'd say co-editing and contribution to such a volume is *forgivable*.

And, furthermore, you neglect to acknowledge that the case you raise indeed makes all the relevant distinctions between types of publication, and, in fact, leaves his essay in the PC&P volume off altogether. Wise of him.

Ludlow said...

Am I late to the party?

I don't see the point of leaving quirky things off of a CV. Just put them in a different category than the usual refereed publications. Some people will ding you for having quirky publications, but if you do technical work for your day job some people will find the quirky stuff redeeming. People want their colleagues to be interesting.

Now some people absolutely will not hire you if you work on things like the philosophy of video games or philosophy of pop cult, no matter how solid the rest of your work is. But would you really want people like that as colleagues? If you have a flag, fly it.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to this entry and after having read the comments I am left still with a question or two.
I am a graduate student at a not-in-the-top-ten (Leiter) program who has recently co-edited one of the PC&P books (it is not yet out). I noted the comment that even given stature in the field, editing one of these is "forgivable"... where does this leave me? I mean, let's be honest, it's not likely that, as a graduate student I'm going to be co-editing the third edition of the Blackwell Anthology, Epistemology.
I do know enough to place this kind of thing on my CV under a category far away from anything serious, but does this not show, at least, that I have some experience that others might lack (e.g. soliciting, accepting, editing, papers for a book)?

Is this the kind of thing that you who are on hiring committees look at and immediately decide to "kick that shit... straight into the muthafuckin' bin"?
Even if it's not posted next to my Phil Studies publication, or whatever?

Also, there has also been some speculation as to why people do these sorts of things in grad school. I did it because I enjoy the topic, a lot, and it gave me an excuse to combine two things I really like. It wasn't because I needed the money (I have yet to see a dime), and it wasn't because I though "YEAH, now I'll get hired by NYU!"... I don't think either of those things will happen. It's fun, and it makes accessible to my mother the esoteric stuff I do every day.